Chinese and East Asian Communities: Racism during Covid-19

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:46 pm on 13th October 2020.

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Photo of Kim Johnson Kim Johnson Labour, Liverpool, Riverside 4:46 pm, 13th October 2020

I welcome the opportunity to speak in this important debate on hate crime faced by Chinese and East Asian communities since the start of the pandemic—hatred stoked, as we have just heard, by people who should know better: Tory politicians and Donald Trump.

I am honoured to represent Liverpool, Riverside, which includes Chinatown, one of the oldest established Chinese communities across Europe. The trade links between China and Britain via the ports of Shanghai and Liverpool were instrumental in the establishment of a Chinese community in the city. The first ship arrived in Liverpool direct from China in 1834 and the first wave of Chinese immigrants arrived in 1866, with the establishment of the Blue Funnel shipping line, which ran a line of steamers directly from Liverpool to China.

Chinese sailors decided to stay in Liverpool and worked from a settled area in the city that was close to the docks. Boarding houses were first opened by the shipping company to accommodate its workers. It was there that the first Chinese settlers started their own businesses supplying services to their community. The British merchant navy recruited sailors from its allies across the world, and Liverpool became a reserve pool for Chinese merchant sailors, with up to 20,000 registered.

In 1906 Liverpool City Council commissioned a report on Chinese settlement. There were 49 laundries, 13 boarding houses and seven shops owned by members of the Chinese community. However, the Chinese community remains invisible in Liverpool, like so many others among our long-established diverse communities—lacking political representation, and neither being seen in shops in the city centre nor gaining access to key services such as adult health and social care.

The far right has used the coronavirus as an excuse to attack Chinese and East Asian communities, with hate crime increasing by a third since the lockdown was eased in May and figures significantly higher than in previous years. In Liverpool, community associations have expressed concern about the increased levels of bullying and intimidation and have started a low-level helpline, because unfortunately members of the community are very unlikely to report those incidents.

The Chinese community in Liverpool has been subject to racism dating back to the 1940s. In 1946, after the war, when so many Chinese seamen put their lives on the line to keep this country going and maintain the war effort, more than 1,300 Chinese sailors were forcibly repatriated to China. Over 48 hours the Liverpool constabulary implemented orders from the British Government to deport Chinese sailors in Liverpool who had travelled to England as part of the war effort. Liverpool families were never told what happened to those Chinese sailors. Their wives and children believed they had been deserted until the release of the declassified records 50 years later revealed the shocking truth. Surviving descendants, now in their 70s, felt cheated out of a relationship with their fathers and unable to connect with their Chinese roots; they felt abandoned, only finding out too late the horrendous events that led to their separation. It is important to raise awareness of the issue and educate the wider community about the shocking events of 1946. It is part of British history. I also call on the Government to make an unreserved apology for their part in destroying so many Liverpool Chinese family lives and to look at the racism that has increased as a result of the pandemic.